This blog post was provided by Alica Hall, Executive Director of Nia Centre For The Arts.
Help Nia Centre build a legacy for our country as they build Canada’s first professional Black arts centre.
Art has the power to transform communities and bring people together. At Nia Centre for the Arts, a Toronto-based charity dedicated to promoting art from across the African-diaspora, we recognize that Black creativity has powered social movements, disrupted the status quo and pushed our country forward.
From the Caribbean to the continent, our community comes from all corners of the world — bringing different experiences, traditions, and languages to the cultural fabric of Canada. Throughout history, Black Canadians have made our creative landscape more vibrant and dynamic. As we enter Black History Month, we celebrate the great legendary artists and leaders who have contributed to our nation’s cultural identity.
From grand events like Caribana and Afro-Fest, to legacy artists like Oscar Petersen and Drake—our homegrown talent and artistic traditions have brought our country to the global stage.
As we’ve learned to grapple with the changes and challenges of COVID-19, the value of art has never been clearer. Whether it’s music, literature, movies or performances—Black artists have helped us stay inspired, connected, and entertained throughout the course of the global pandemic.
In spite of these contributions, it’s been an uphill battle to get the support, funding, and recognition needed in order to foster the growth of artists in our community. At Nia Centre, we’ve been advocating for the preservation and promotion of Black art and culture through youth programs, professional development opportunities, events and exhibitions that deepen our collective understanding of the Black experience.
Our vision is to give Black artists a platform—no matter where they are in their careers—to share their gifts and talents with the entire community.
Our early programming focused on helping youth hone their artistic talents and create a sense of belonging. We’ve witnessed firsthand how the arts can support a healthy identity and positive development of Black youth.
The first time Ebti Nabag picked up a camera was at a Nia Centre photography workshop in 2010. After graduating from university, she took a year off to explore creative pathways and gain confidence in her skills. 10 years later, she’s now a portrait and documentary photographer travelling continents and showcasing her work at festivals. She also works as a mentor in our Creative Connect program, a year-round initiative that matches Black youth with career-level art professionals to support them on their creative journey.
Laying Bricks to Support the Next Generation of Black Artists
In all of our work, we seek to bridge the gap between artists and significant opportunities to create and showcase their work. After a decade of building the creative capacity of our community, we’re embarking on our largest project yet—building Canada’s first professional multi-disciplinary Black arts centre.
Once fully renovated, our building will have a performance theatre, gallery space, artist studios, digital media lab, a recording studio, a youth hub and more. But we need the help of our community to bring this beautiful vision to life. Right now, we’re in the midst of our largest fundraising campaign ever—with a goal of $1.5 million to complete renovations and purchase equipment.
Our home at 524 Oakwood Avenue was constructed in the early 1920s. In the past, it has been used as a banquet hall, bowling alley and a nightclub. Over the years, this building has played a critical role as a space to gather and access services. This is just one of the reasons we’re so excited to be renovating this particular space for the community—building on its significance in the city.
The Centre is located in the historically Black neighbourhood, affectionately known as Little Jamaica. This community has a rich history of Black entrepreneurship and creativity, while simultaneously, on the brink of disappearing in light of extreme economic challenges stemming from the construction of a new light rail project and further amplified by the pandemic. A recent report by Black Urbanism TO, found that between 2006 and 2016, the Black population in the neighbourhood declined 13%—a rate that is nearly 3 times higher than the rest of the community. We are proud to build on and support efforts to preserve this legacy.
Long-standing, systemic barriers have shaped how we value Black arts and culture in Canada. It’s limited the way our stories are shared, represented, and too often dismissed. The lack of Black representation in Canadian art has created a misrepresentation of our collective narrative.
Studies show that Black artists struggle to find space in major art galleries. Despite racialized people making up 28 percent of the population, an analysis of major public art galleries by Canadian Art found that only 11 percent of solo exhibitions centred on non-white artists.
Recognizing the historical barriers for Black artists to succeed and thrive in our country, makes our space more than a building—it’s a space with generational value and unlimited potential. With 16,000 sq. ft., our new space will become a destination for community members to gather, and enjoy art rooted in Black traditions for years to come.
The time to donate to Black art was yesterday, and the next best time is now. Be part of history and help us build a legacy for the community and generations to come. Support Nia Centre today!